Sunday, August 15, 2010

Secret History: 1968

Ahh, the Summer of Love ('67, in case you missed it) has by now ushered in the Age of Aquarius, and at the beginning of 1968, it's clear that everything is going to be just great. (No wonder I prefer music to real life.)

Let's start off with a couple of records that were really released in late 1967, but didn't make their mark until 1968:

First, there's Bob Dylan's "John Wesley Harding". I was going to ignore Dylan, but I really like this record. Now if he would only take harmonica lessons and I could forget Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower", I'd say it was love.

And then there's The Who Sell Out, which is just my all time favorite album. Now when you buy it, you're going to listen to it once and say, what the hell? Will you please put it on again? And again? At some point, you're going to realize that the Tommy references are pre-Tommy references, the commercials are hilarious, and the ballads are as beautiful as any Pete Townsend ever wrote. And who doesn't like Heinz baked beans?

The Byrds kept pretty busy. When they weren't busy killing each other, they were making their two best albums. First, there's "The Notorious Byrd Brothers", which is an artful suite of tunes, the most famous of which – but not the best, mind you - may be Carole King's "Going Back". Then there's "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" which takes on country music, with great enthusiasm and respect, thanks to Gram Parsons. This is truly one of the highlights of the decade. Greatest American Band of the Sixties, you say? Hard to argue with you, sir.

And although I'll admit that "Moondance" has more soul, Van Morrison's
"Astral Weeks" is (warning: bs phrase approaching) full of jazzy poetic mystery.
It is also where
I first wondered
if Van was out of his mind. At first I was taken aback by all the growling, scatting and general weirdness. But it's clearly Van at his most hypnotic.

The Zombies scored early in the decade with a couple of great singles ("She's Not There" and "Tell Her No"), but then struggled for years for a follow up hit. "Odyssey and Oracle" was their last shot, but it came a little too late. "Time of the Season", didn't become a hit until 1970, two years after they called it quits. They deserved better, because this is a wonderful record. "Care of Cell #44" is brilliant, and a couple of others ("Hung Up on a Dream", "Brief Candles") are as good as anything else the sixties served up.

The Kinks could always be counted upon to create a brilliant side of music every year or so. And side one of "Village Green Preservation Society" is
one of their best ever. Side two was always their Achilles heel, and here they do wander off a bit to the village green. But that's the Kinks for you. But definitely worthwhile nonetheless.

And if you're as sick of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as I am, you might want to try "Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkel. Besides "Mrs. Robinson", it's got "Fakin' It" and "America". Not too shabby, although I still maintain that Art Garfunkel is the luckiest man alive. At least Ringo can drum.

Spirit boasted
musicianship and excellent songwriting, if not the most electrifying singing. Maybe that's why their first record went by the wayside. They would later become more famous for "I Got a Line On You" and "Nature's Way", but this record is very fine. Check out the acoustic guitar of "Taurus", which Led Zeppelin "borrowed" for "Stairway to Heaven".


The Weirdness:

While the Beatles were telling us that All You Need Is Love, some people were having none of it. Frank Zappa being one of them, he felt the need to make his own heartwarming philosophical statement – "We're Only In it for the Money". Now I always found Frank to be a bit overrated. I always felt like I was supposed to like his stuff. Well, any record that calls out both the cops and the hippies appeals to the misanthrope (curmudgeon?) in me, and this is one record for which I'm happy to make the effort.

Back when Peter Rowan and David Grisman were hippies, they formed Earth Opera, whose first record sounded dated before they finished recording it. Slow, weird, and with weak singing. But there are tunes here. I think.


In sum, people were so inspired by all this great music that 1968 will always be remembered for its racial brotherhood, a curious dearth of assassinations, and peace in Vietnam.

No comments: